Richard Thomas Potter Memorial
The following is a transcript of the eulogy delivered by Ian McLachlan AO (SCH 1954) at Dick Potter’s Memorial held in Memorial Hall on Sunday 5 June.
Caro, Susie, Simon, Jamie, Andrew and grandchildren of this wonderful double’s partnership. Ladies and Gentlemen.
Andrew asked me to say a few words about Dick’s old friends and friendships and as I look around there are plenty of old friends here today. And many of us fit both categories in this great Hall, exactly the right place to celebrate Dick’s life. I well remember when a Mr R.T. Potter arrived at Saints, a young House Master at the Senior Boarding House, School House, which occupied nearly all of what is now the Pentreath Building. Dick’s days on the corvettes, seven years passed, but he was, to us, already famous. He was famous for three things, he’d been about to play in his first League game when he was smashed up, he’d kicked 16 goals for Melbourne University against Adelaide University (as yet unproven) and he had beaten Frank Sedgman in the U16 Tennis Championship of Victoria.
Dick’s room in the Boarding House was at the far end of School House so you had to walk 80 metres to the Master’s Common Room in Old School House. And it was quickly noticed by irreverent small boys that the new Mr Potter had a distinctive walk. His left leg thrust out forward, his left arm held vertically, right hand behind his back, stylishly athletic with a bit of a swagger. And after a while, four or five boys would be following along this new master imitating Mr Potter, giggling away. One day we counted over 20 of them doing the same thing. Dick took no notice whatsoever. Later I asked him what he thought of all this and he said they didn’t know that I could see their reflections in Trunk Vollugi’s study mirror so I thought over time I’d keep on exaggerating, which is what he did. And I can tell you I can still do that (the Dick Potter walk) without the athleticism.
When Dick was a junior Boarding House Master, we all grew up only seven or eight years younger than he was and those of us who finally finished up in the senior positions in the House got to know him extremely well, especially if you knew anything about sport.
In 1955 Dick and I turned up in England together. Dick was already teaching at the Dragon School, the famous Prep School in Oxford, and I was to go to Cambridge in the next October. The Dragon School year ended in May and Wimbledon was approaching fast. So I stayed with Dick and about a dozen Australian and American tennis players preparing for Wimbledon. Some already famous and some about to be so. Ashley Cooper, one or two others, Ham Richardson from America in a hotel near what is known as Kangaroo Valley near Earl’s Court. I went to Wimbledon most days as Dick’s guest and was watching when he very nearly upset the eventual runner-up Kurt Nielsen. My mother sent a cable, or a message somehow, thanking Dick for looking after the ‘boy’ as she said, and I still have his reply which I shared with Dick more recently in which he said, that he’d been in bad form, only just started playing well, and I’d been very supportive. Well, I have to say, it is surprising how supportive you can be when you get free tickets to the greatest tennis tournament in the world, free meals, strawberries and cream, Pimm’s on call, and seats at all the finals. It wasn’t too tough being supportive.
What I do remember very well was how well he started to play with almost no practice. The others had been on Tour , he’d been to a couple of minor tournaments in England just enough to get prepared, and despite his broken leg, which he informed me was full of copper, he played extraordinarily well and very nearly upset Kurt Nielsen, the eventual runner up.
After Wimbledon, Dick and I went on a four-week tour in his immaculate Morris Thousand with another English School Master, back in the UK for the summer, called David Stalky Dyer who was the worst driver who had ever been allowed to desecrate the wheel of a motor car. He finally persuaded Dick to let him to drive his motorcar when we were near Venice one night which he managed to back into a drainage channel where we stayed all night. We couldn’t get out because we were bogged and would have been carried away by the mosquitos. That was the first time that I saw R.T. Potter fiery hot. We were pulled out the following morning by a very reluctant Italian farmer.
I have seen him, I’ve heard him, I’ve read him fiery hot on one other occasion. I got two letters once when I was in a senior position at the South Australian Cricket Association. One of them was the most ferocious letter that I have ever received in my life. The other was from Don Beard who finally forgave me because he found the beer was cheaper at the Adelaide Bowling Club. But the Adelaide Oval Bowling Clubs most ferocious letter came from Dick Potter and I’ve asked him many times whether he has forgiven me and every time he said ‘no, you made a giant mistake’. Well maybe I did and maybe I didn’t and I must say it was a letter that I have conveniently lost.
Well before Dick came back from England, he had accumulated friends from his school days already. In fact when he was at the Dragon School, people would find their way to Oxford. He managed to some how or other be a friend at school, but still in a responsible position in control, and then a good friend to so many afterwards.
The other time I have seen him fiery hot was again on the same trip. As you know, Dick had a religious bent from his family history and we had in 35 days been to two steeples a day, everyday. We had been to every church and cathedral that there was to be seen in most of Western Europe and I simply refused to go to the last building that he had in store for us. Even though I had been told that it was on some place on the Isle de la Cite’ in Paris. Luckily our friendship survived my childish stupidity of refusing to go to Notre Dame!
Old boys continued over all of the years that he was there to find their way to catch up with him. He was a disciplinarian, nevertheless all through his school life, these students became friends almost as they walked out the gate. He was trusted, he was firm, he was friendly and he was caring.
I might have been the only person who saw him play a quarter of football. You might say it wasn’t much because it was Oxford University v Cambridge University Aussie Rules Football and we had to rake in some people from outlandish places like the Cirencester Agricultural College, a place of no academic repute. He was careful about his leg that day, but in the last quarter I took the whistle from him, said you play for Cambridge and we’ll watch and I have to say that although he didn’t go into very dangerous positions he was so fast that we got a glimpse perhaps of what might have been.
I returned to Australian in 1958 as he did and almost the first thing we did was to go looking for the son of Charles Bannon, Nicholas, in the Flinders Ranges. The night before we went, we were told the boy was missing, Dick turned around and said “I’m going in the morning, is anybody coming?” And that was Dick, straight away.
Everybody who knows, played with or was coached by Dick at tennis and footy, still talk now about how good he was at coaching. How much he seemed to care about their game and how encouraging he was. He did play a bit of cricket. He didn’t let on much that he played cricket, but he had an infuriating habit of not going anywhere near the cricket net then making 50 every time for the Masters vs the School XI. And I’m told that that went on for many years again with no practice at all.
Dick was asked by a very excellent Headmaster Colin Gordon (there’s lots of excellent Headmaster’s at St Peter’s College), but refused until a particularly unpleasant character was no longer a teacher at the School. Dick won that bout and stayed for a further quarter of a century, in fact more.
Potts, as I called him, still accumulated friends. He ran the Quarterly Lunches for old scholars producing speakers with great ease and they were well attended.
Caro had a walking group which ageing husbands were occasionally asked to join. And we went on some very lovely walks in the Hinterland of Australia. We had other dinners to congratulate the girls for their weekly efforts keeping fit on our behalf.
Hugo Shaw was Art Master when Dick was getting on to be a Senior Master in the Common Room. Hugo says that in early days he was always immaculately dressed, but changed his car so often that you could tell Dick by his sports coat, but never by his car. I think he may have changed that habit a bit after Caro and he were married.
There were tennis groups which added to the friendships. Even old boys from other schools were allowed occasionally to join the tennis groups. And Dick’s great love of golf played a great part of his later life. As Andrew has said, he played a lot with Don Bradman. I played with them once when Dick and I were playing well and Don was playing badly. It was a great day really- I have to say!
Most of what I have spoken about was BC. Old times and before Caroline. But the boys have spoken about the later part of Dick’s life. He was so proud of you all.
Doug Stott was School Captain in 1954 and afterwards had a house on the grounds with his wide Adey, when Dick and Caro were for many years running the Wyatt & Allen Boarding House. Doug says that Dick was almost the perfect School Master – firm, reliable, always the same, had a balanced life both in and outside the School, and he enhanced that balance by running tours around the world after he retired from the School.
I haven’t, until today been able to verify whether Dick beat Frank Sedgman in the U16 Championships of Victoria or not because I couldn’t find it when I looked it up many times. But Dick Scott-Young who was also a great friend of Dick’s, and here today, told me the other day that he was at Memorial Drive with Dick Potter and Dick saw Frank Sedgman. And Frank saw Dick and said “Ah, Dicky Potts, Dicky Pott” and I thought when he told me that story that is a school boy nick name and there’s no doubt that they played a lot of tennis together and I was convinced before I heard it today that Dick Potter had beaten Frank Sedgman whether it was in the U16s or not.
I just in finishing say that we have really all come here today because of Dick’s ability to make and keep friends for all of his life. Friends of every age, in this great Hall which was burnt down and built again, which commemorates those who served their country, as Dick did all his life. And there’s no more fitting place for us to today celebrate, whether family of friends, the life of a very very fine Australian gentleman.
pictured in 2018 with the late former Deputy Headmaster, Ray Stanley (left)
Our thanks to Ian McLachlan AO (SCH 1954) for allowing us to share this special tribute to a much loved teacher, coach, mentor and friend.